James Lee Burke, Rain Gods


When it comes to literate and violent motifs in a major detective series James Lee Burke has few peers. For more than two decades the Dave Robicheaux detective series has blossomed and each of the recent novels have been lauded by the critics. Burke is a major force in American crime. This is Jim Burke’s most evocative and richly literary novel to date – the first full length Hackberry Holland novel set in Texas with three strong female characters. It contains a wonderful appreciation by ‘fanboy’ Robert Crais.

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Following early attempts at literary fiction and a thriller issued by a university press James Lee Burke found a niche with the Dave Robicheaux detective novel Neon Rain (1987). It was this breakthrough that quickly earned him an Edgar for best mystery with Black Cherry Blues, his third novel in the series. This book, like the others in the series is about a deep feeling for the South, human dignity and redemption. What Burke brings to the genre is an emotional engagement; listen to this: “. . . I had found the edge. The place where you unstrap all your fastenings to the earth, to what you are what you have been, where you flame out on the edge of the spheres, and the sun and moon become eclipsed and the world below is as dead and remote and without interest as if it were glazed with ice. ”  Rain Gods (2009)  is first full length Hackberry Holland novel set in Texas with three strong female characters.

Plotline from the author website: When Hackberry Holland became sheriff of a tiny Texas town near the Mexican border, he’d hoped to leave certain things behind: his checkered reputation, his haunted dreams, and his obsessive memories of the good life with his late wife, Rie. But the discovery of the bodies of nine illegal aliens, machine-gunned to death and buried in a shallow grave behind a church, soon makes it clear that he won’t escape so easily. As Hack and Deputy Sheriff Pam Tibbs attempt to untangle the threads of this complex and grisly case, a damaged young Iraq veteran, Pete Flores, and his girlfriend, Vikki Gaddis, are running for their lives, hoping to outwit the bloodthirsty criminals who want to kill Pete for his involvement in the murders. The only trouble is, Pete doesn’t know who he’s running from: drunk and terrified, he fled the scene of the crime when the shooting began. And there’s a long list of people who want Pete and Vikki dead: crime boss Hugo Cistranos, who hired Pete for the operation; Nick Dolan, a strip club owner and small-time gangster with revenge on his mind; and a mysterious God-fearing serial killer-for-hire known as Preacher Jack Collins, with enigmatic motives of his own.

James Lee Burke has become the foremost American crime writer of his time. Although an entertainer Burke’s Robicheaux series (now extending to eighteen dense novels) marks out an outstanding achievement in creating a much followed flawed character with real depth and in extending the crime genre into areas of wider social concern. Recent novels such as The Tin Roof Blowdown and Swan Peak received superb notices and it is no surprise that Rain Gods was hailed as a masterpiece, or as one reviewer said, Burke had struck platinum! Scorpion Press edition comprised 80 numbered and signed copies and a further and 15 lettered for presentation purposes. It was enhanced by the presence of an appreciation by LA thriller novelist Robert Crais. The book shown is the lettered edition, not the ordinary numbered.

5.00 out of 5

2 reviews for James Lee Burke, Rain Gods

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rating by The Indepenent on May 30, 2012 :

    Roz Kaveney, The Independent.
    “One of the things that makes James Lee Burke both one of the best of thriller writers, and something more as well, is that he has always been fascinated by grace. He does not necessarily think about it in religious terms, though religious language is something that many both his heroes and the worst of his villains have in common, so much as the capacity to move lightly on the earth, to retain both a measure of innocence and a serious-mindedness about what is past.
    Many of his characters are wounded, often self-wounded through alcoholism and other bad habits; his novels are about recovery, and often redemption. They also tend to have a pastoral streak. Characters go to the city to do their sinning and to the countryside to find some sort of peace. This applies whether or not the city in question is New Orleans, though it often is. In one moment in Rain Gods, two fugitives escape murder by running in among the celebrants of a riverside baptism. They trust holiness to protect them.
    Rain Gods, one of Burke’s most powerful books for some time, is set in Texas, in the area policed by ageing Hackberry Holland, whose nephew Billy Bob has featured in a number of novels; Holland has a past which includes breaking under torture in Korea, work for the ACLU and a dead second wife: he is a man whose areas of frailty simply make him stronger because of his awareness of them. He finds himself caught up in the complicated consequences of the massacre of some trafficked Thai women, and up against a man who is his dark shadow: “Preacher” Jack Collins, who likes to see himself as not merely a thug for hire, but in constant dialogue with God.
    There is never, in the reader’s mind, any serious question that Holland will win this engagement. But what price will he pay along the way, and how he will bear it? One of the problems that Collins finds himself hindered by, and Holland helped, is that many people are not as they seem. Some people caught up in crime will step away from further moral trespass once they confront the implications of what they have already done. Pete, who took a driving job that ended in his witnessing horrors, tries to do the right thing. Strip-club owner Nick Dolan turns out to have more integrity than even he could have imagined – peddling flesh is one thing, but mass murder is where he draws the line.
    In particular, Collins – who may have been responsible for the death of his mother and whose preparedness to machine-gun the Thai women was in part a matter of a fundamental misogyny- finds himself crippled, outwitted and ultimately poisoned by a series of strong women. Like Holland, they speak truth to him even when it puts them in danger of his wrath. In the end, Collins is no prince of darkness, much as he would like to be; he is a killer with demented pretensions. What gives Rain Gods its particular vigour is that Burke knows the appeal of writing about men like Collins but, unlike some colleagues, remembers whose side he is on”.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rating by JLB’s “Best novel so far” John Formy-Duval on May 30, 2012 :

    John M. Formy-Duval on About.com Contemporary Literature
    “An independent bookstore employee told me that Rain Gods by James Lee Burke took more time than usual to read because the language was so rich and evocative. He was exactly right. Despite the violence and tortured souls which we have come to expect in Burke’s novels, the language, the plot, and character development here rise so far above the norm as to place this novel onto an even higher plateau for Burke. It is far more than a good story well-told.

    Rain Gods is the most clearly literary novel of Burke’s distinguished career as a novelist. After 17 Dave Robicheaux, four Billy Bob Holland, six miscellaneous golden novels and two collections of short stories, Burke has struck platinum. The protagonist is Sheriff Hackberry Holland. He is 74-years-old and suffers from chronic back pain and night terrors due to his Korean War POW experiences. Plus, he has quit drinking and is fending off the attentions of his young deputy, Pam Tibbs. Although this is Holland’s first full-length treatment, he first appeared in three short stories and as the narrator in Lay Down My Sword and Shield. He is a fully developed character we want to hear from again, and Burke has said he will be telling more of his story.
    Holland’s worthy antagonist is Preacher Jack Collins. Collins (JC) is a moral anti-Christ who knows his Bible intimately. He is a stone-cold killer, but with a powerful sense of morality which continues to surprise throughout this exquisite novel. His reasons for killing or not killing are outside the traditions of thriller novels. Collins is an angel of death who sees himself as “an agent of God, purging the world of abomination.” One character says to him that he carries “the abyss inside” him. He is a brilliantly created monster.

    When nine young Thai women are found murdered and buried (at least one while still alive!) just north of the Mexican border, the chase begins. At least 13 major characters participate in more than a half dozen plot lines which intersect and loop back upon one another. Burke keeps all this in order and entirely plausible. There is no deus ex machina swooping down from the sky to suddenly solve the initial murders, subsequent murders, or attempted murders. Holland and Tibbs use dogged, persistent police work in their attempt to bring justice to the Thai women.
    Rain Gods features three of Burke’s strongest female characters. Pam Tibbs is no cardboard, country hick deputy. She is a professional and a woman who loves Holland, but does not let that get in the way of doing the right thing. One hopes to learn more about this relationship as Burke continues Holland’s story. Vikki Gaddis is a waitress/stripper/country singer (Do not think “stripper with a heart of gold.”) who is a strong and determined woman. She has to work hard to help save her man who, unfortunately, was driving the truck that brought the Thai women into the country. Esther Dolan, wife of a strip club owner, must also protect her family, and her quick thinking and ability to stand up to the most difficult of situations brings about one of the most satisfying results I have read in quite some time. Her final solution is the stuff of legend, and so logical.

    The juxtaposition of violence, a lyric voice, and unforgettable characters makes for a novel of rare beauty. Rain Gods is a novel to be read slowly and savoured. It is Burke’s best so far.”

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